On February 1st the World Health Organisation declared that the Zika Virus is a public health emergency after a large outbreak in Brazil. Before you quarantine yourself, here is all you need to know on the virus that is sweeping South America.
The Zika Virus is spread mainly via mosquito bites from the Aedes genus of mosquito that populates tropical and subtropical regions. This mosquito also carries Dengue and Yellow fever so it is definitely one to avoid being bitten by. Common symptoms associated with Zika include headaches, muscle and joint pain, mild fever and inflammation of the underside of the eyelid. Most of these symptoms are mild and can subside in two to seven days. It can seem like there isn’t much to worry about, however the complications associated with the Zika Virus are what has caused a great deal of consternation for the doctors of Brazil.
Recently the rise of the Zika Virus has coincided with an increase in neurological brain disorders. Guillain-Barré syndrome is one of these disorders. The immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system, the outer parts of the brain and spinal cord, potentially causing temporary paralysis. The spread of the Zika virus has also been accompanied by widespread microcephaly, where babies are born with abnormally small heads and as a result have incomplete brain development. While the link between Zika and these disorders has not yet been proven as a causal relationship, there is a growing weight of evidence to suggest that the Zika virus is increasing the likelihood of them developing.
In a bid to slow the march of the virus, the Washington School of Medicine in St. Louis have tried out a model of the disease on mice. The model mimics the infection in humans. High levels of the virus were found to build up in the brain and spinal cord of the mice, backing up research that has found potential links between the foetal malformations/other neurological disorders and the Zika virus. It was also found that the levels of Zika virus in male mice was higher than in females supporting concerns that the disease may be able to be transmitted sexually amongst humans. Now that scientists have established mice are susceptible to the disease, research into developing vaccines can start. Once a suitable vaccine has been tested sufficiently on the mice, rounds of human trials can begin. However, it is likely to take a long time for vaccines to be developed, possibly years.
‘IT SEEMS THE BEST WAY TO PREPARE FOR THE ZIKA VIRUS IN THE AFFECTED COUNTRIES IS TO AVOID BEING BITTEN BY MOSQUITOS’
It seems the best way to prepare for the Zika virus in the affected countries is to avoid being bitten by mosquitos. The chances of being bitten by a mosquito can be reduced by using insect repellent, putting mosquito nets up when you sleep and wearing long light clothing that covers the body.
The timing of this outbreak in Brazil cannot have come at a worse time. As the host country of the 2016 Olympics many in Brazil, and indeed the rest of the world, will hope that a solution to the crisis will be swiftly found.